Everyone in the States at this point in time is very familiar with the term "sequester" as it applies to limiting the size of the U.S. federal budget. British Airways, on the other hand is using the concept as originally defined -- "to cause to withdraw, into seclusion." British Airways' latest innovation is titled, 'Innovation Lab In The Sky,' and their sequestration will not be limiting at all, because their plan is to expand upon talent and opportunities, with a little help from their friends.
British Airways will go where no airline has gone before. No, this is not a space flight, but something equally as creative. Assembling Silicon Valley tech stars is a difficult enough task on the ground, so what better way to sequester this kind of talent than in the air, with no exits for approximately 10 hours?
British Airways announced the first of its "UnGrounded" innovation lab flights set for take-off June 12th from San Francisco en route to Heathrow Airport in London. Working off the principle that there is a unbalanced alignment of talent and opportunity in the world, BA has initiated a partnership alliance with the United Nations and 100 thought leaders in the techie world, including Google, Andreessen, Horowitz and Rocketspace.
Hatching an idea of this magnitude is genius for a transatlantic airline that works hard to maintain its Simon Talling-Smithsubstantial market share in a very competitive business milieu. This also might have been one of the reasons to time the announcement appropriately on the first day of Spring. Conceived as the brainchild of BA's EVP, Simon Talling-Smith, he noted in a press conference on March 21, that “great innovation happens when you bring people together face to face, not when you have people sitting alone in rooms."
Eric SchmidtBA’s plan is to fill the 100 seats on the flight with founders, funders, engineers, academics and a couple of journalists, and give them 10 hours to work on a big problem.BA will be assisted by Google's Eric Schmidt and his Innovation Endeavors fund, coupled with RocketSpace's startup accelerator. IDEO will be designing the in-flight experience.
"That’s a huge challenge," notes Josh Constine at TechCrunch, "as smart people can be tough to corral, and if the organizational structure for turning ideas into solutions isn’t right, the whole flight could be a waste. There’s also talk of pulling out seats along with the reduced 100-passenger cap to make sure the plane is a decent working environment."
According to BA's press release, upon touch down in London, the UnGrounded flight’s assembled team will present their progress to the United Nations’ sponsored Decide Now Act (DNA) Summit and the Secretary General of the UN’s International Telecommunications Union. Todd Lutwak of Andreessen Horowitz, Leor Stern of Google, Celestine Johnson of Innovation Endeavors, Duncan Logan of RocketSpace, Gerald Brady of Silicon Valley Bank, and Marguerite Gong Hancock of the Stanford GSB are among the passengers.
So why is British Airways taking to the innovative skies? Talling-Smith says that “We’re a premium airline. We exist as a product and service business, which means we’re an innovation company. So innovation has always been at the heart of what we do. The spirit of innovation has changed. A lot of the activity is happening in the technology sphere. We asked ‘what could we do to play our part?’ The airline had a eureka moment when it realized its fuselages could become crucibles for progress. Plus, UnGrounded can’t hurt the company’s image among anyone who fancies themselves an ‘innovator’.”
Like a jury, when sequestered to make a verdict, BA's think-tank in the sky could prove to be game-changer, a disruption of sorts to the way the Silicon Valley tech leaders have worked in the past. Chasing IPOs and bottom lines are necessary business practices. Chasing opportunities to change the world for something better is in tandem with what Bill Gates and his wife began to do over a decade ago. Perhaps BA's initiative will throw a spark under some of his Silicon Valley colleagues to take flight in the same direction.